2013-08-02 "Vallejo homeless shelter limits free daily meals"
by Jessica A. York from "Vallejo Times-Herald" [www.timesheraldonline.com/news/ci_23782532/vallejo-homeless-shelter-limits-free-daily-meals]:
Vallejo's only homeless shelter has begun limiting the number of free meals given out to the city's neediest, and other groups are being tapped to fill the void.
The move came several weeks ago, after three years of the Christian Help Center opening its daily meals to anyone in need, organization Executive Director Norma Ramos said Monday.
"I opened up the breakfast, lunch and dinners to the entire community because people were having such a dismal time," Ramos said. "For a while it was fine, we were able to keep up. (But) in the past few months, it's been just a little bit more difficult, and I anticipate it could get worse."
The shelter recently transitioned back to a limited number of meals for those not already staying at the site. That shift is due to a reduction in food donations from local businesses, Ramos said, also citing two years of funding reductions from the city-administered federal Community Development Block Grants.
"Even with donations from (the community), now there are so many groups that are giving out food donations," Ramos said. "Say there's five organizations doing it, so now we get a fifth (of the donations). That's made it harder, too."
Prior to Ramos taking the helm and opening the process to all, meals were limited to five a year per person not residing at the shelter. Ramos said she has set a higher ceiling of 12 meals - averaging about one a month.
The Christian Help Center will continue to hold Saturday lunches and offering bread and water to those in need, regardless of whether or not they are staying at the shelter, Ramos added.
Also, a recent plumbing problem that had closed the shelter's men's shower over the last several months is expected to be remedied by next week, Ramos said.
Vallejo Rev. Al Marks, of the First Baptist Church, said the Christian Help Center notified him some five or six weeks ago of the center's pending feeding policy. Marks organizes the nearly 14-year-old Sparrow Project, providing hot lunches Monday through Thursday, a Sunday dinner and a late-night Saturday barbecue.
"We've seen an increase of people coming for lunches, that's for sure," Marks said Tuesday. "Last Saturday morning, 112 people came out. We're doing turkey and as much soup as we can make and sack lunches."
Marks acknowledged that while meal attendance always rises at the end of the month, when paychecks start to dwindle, that last week's group was about a 12-to 22-person increase. He added that his effort is benefited by both weekly deliveries from Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, donations from eight Vallejo and Benicia grocery stores, coffee shops and more than seven years of monthly food from Gracie's Barbecue.
"The Christian Help Center has a long history of doing great work for the community and the homeless, but for those who aren't in residence, there aren't a lot of places for them to turn to, and we try to be one of them," Marks said.
Marks' perspective on competition for local charity differed somewhat from the Ramos'.
"It's not competition for the donations at all. There's no sense of competition in getting the donations," Marks said. "It's just that there are not many places that will make donations."
Vallejo Together's organizer Maria Guevara said she was concerned when she heard of the meal cutbacks for homeless "friends in need." Vallejo Together works through its mobile Care to Share to distribute food donations to the city's homeless every Friday, among other regular efforts.
Guevara said feeding efforts by various groups are not reducing the needy population. She added that she and others would be willing to help the Christian Help Center find alternatives to reducing the daily meals.
"Before they canceled it, they should have had a call-out (for help)," Guevara said. "We could have helped them. There are so many churches in town that are not involved in (homeless feeding efforts). Now that we found out ... we are more than willing to assist them in scheduling groups to cook for (the homeless), because no one should go hungry."
Benjamin and Mary Ann Buggs, who organize the 2-year-old Faith Food Fridays - a weekly giveaway of bags of fruit, vegetables, dry goods, bread and dairy - said they have not experienced a reduction in food donations received.
However, Benjamin Buggs acknowledged, Faith Food Fridays does not serve hot meals multiple times daily.
"Faith Food Fridays partners with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, and I'm not sure they're taking advantage of that option," Buggs said. "In the last couple of years, don't think we've ever seen them there."
"Our numbers are actually going, significantly going, up," Buggs added. "We averaged 65 to 80 people a week in our first year. Now, we're up to 130 a week - about 170 came through (this past) Friday. We're the only food program without restrictions - everyone from the county can come out every week."
Faith Food Fridays giveaways arefrom 3 to 6 p.m. at 826 Solano Ave.
Contact the Christian Help Center at 2166 Sacramento St. or call 553-8192. Contact Faith Food Fridays, call (510) 9782396 or visit faithfoodfridays.com.
Contact Vallejo Together at 655-5381.The Sparrow Project serves 11 a.m. lunches Monday through Thursday at 2025 Sonoma Blvd.